Most of the time there’s no mystery to success–it comes down to simply putting in the hours and the sweat. But as we all know, the gap between knowing what’s required and actually getting yourself to do it can be vast.
How do you cross that chasm? That’s what a recent visitor to question-and-answer Quora wanted to know, asking “How can I motivate myself to work hard?” The query apparently touched a nerve, as a host of respondents piled on with several hundred answers, ranging from spiritual pep talks to nitty-gritty time-management strategies. For those struggling to make sure their energy and commitment match their aspirations, it’s a goldmine of assistance. Here are a few of the best responses:
1. Get clear on the end goal
The trick to keeping your motivation up through low points and exhausted periods, traveler Marie Stein insists, isn’t any particular productivity technique or energy-boosting idea; rather, it’s being really, really clear about why you’re doing what you doing.
“There is only one way for me to motivate myself to work hard: I don’t think about it as hard work. I think about it as part of making myself into who I want to be,” she writes. “The ‘hard’ part for me is choosing and accepting what it is that I have to do… Once I’ve made the choice to do something, I try not to think so much about how difficult or frustrating or impossible that might be; I just think about how good it must feel to be that, or how proud I might be to have done that.”
Struggling to keep your focus on that end vision? “Just ask yourself: If you were the person that you want to be, then what would that person do?” suggests student Karl Bradley Saclolo.
2. Take care of yourself physically
Sometimes the problem isn’t mental, it’s physical. Your willpower can be at an all-time high, but if you don’t have the physical energy to complete your work, keeping your motivation up is still going to be difficult.
“Are you tired a lot? Do you get enough sleep? Do you experience some constant unpleasantness, such as poor sinuses or a constant pain? Are you sad or upset or just lethargic all the time for no reason you can pinpoint?” asks freelance writer April Gunn. If so, “get to a doctor if you can for a routine physical, just to make sure everything is working properly. Try your best to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Listen to your body when it’s telling you things, seek out the causes of your discomfort, and deal with them as best you can.
“It’s really hard to get and stay motivated to work hard if you’re not feeling your best,” she concludes.
3. Think habits, not motivation
Getting yourself to do something again and again by sheer force of will is extremely difficult. Getting yourself to do something by force of habit is easier. “Because motivation/willpower is a limited resource, it has helped me to instead build habits which, once instilled, don’t use willpower,” explains entrepreneur Bud Hennekes. “Start with small habits that help you be more productive and make you feel good. For example, you could aim to walk 15 minutes a day or work in short bursts of intense focus.”
Entrepreneur James Clear has endorsed this advice on Inc.com, though he frames it a bit differently. Rather than habits, he talks about the power of “schedules,” but whichever term you use, the effect is the same–automating a behavior by integrating it into your routine means you rely less on willpower.
4. Embrace discomfort
Manager Mart Nijland suggests that those struggling with motivation remember the wisdom of bodybuilders: no pain, no gain. It is a cliche, but there’s no way to expand your abilities without going outside your comfort zone, so stop letting a little bit of unpleasantness sap your motivation. In fact, struggling a little is a good sign.
“For anything you want to work harder for, you have to go beyond that threshold,” he writes, “because you grow into a totally different, much stronger person.”
5. Bribe (or punish) yourself
Not all routes to improved motivation are high-minded. One of the more effective ways will also motivate your dog–simple reward and punishment. “Make yourself an offer that you can’t refuse,” suggests analyst Deepak Singh (but don’t go as far as Don Corleone, please).
Both positive and negative incentives can work. “For example, if you want to read a book, set a deadline and a reward. Say, if you love ice cream, you could eat some as soon as you finish the book,” suggests Singh. It might not sound very grand, but pushing yourself to complete a task by dangling treats (or the threat of public humiliation or a pay-out on a bet with a friend) appears to be effective.